Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Double down: Farm Park Challenge (50M) and Dirty German Endurance Fest (50K)

So it was my intention to write this entry a week ago but never got around to it. As a result, this is now about two race results instead of one with a mention of a second. Hopefully, this will make cut right to the chase.

Following my decision to drop from the 100K to the 50K at Jack Bristol, I really felt I wanted to get another ultra in before Cayuga. Ideally, I wanted that race to be a 50M. Nationally there were plenty, however, I was not going farther than a drive. That left me with two options: Farm Park Challenge and Dirty German Endurance Fest. FPC was on a Saturday three weeks out but 2 ½ hours away in Maryland. DGEF was on a Sunday two weeks out but 25 minutes from my house. While being closer seemed like the no brainer, a 50 miler with only two weeks of recover leading into Cayuga did not seem to me like a wise decision. So I signed up for Farm Park Challenge. With the drive being as long as it was and a 50 miler, I opted to stay down near the race. Thanks to Priceline, I got a good deal making it reasonable to do an overnight without a giant cost. Remember, I slept in my car overnight to save cash when I was doing a 50K. In honesty, I would have done something like that again were it not for the chance of rain the night before.

On the morning of FPC, I arrived around 45 minutes before the 6:50 start time for the 50 Mile and Marathon runners. I mention this because the format at FPC is interesting. Aside from the two distances I mentioned, there are 3hr and 6hr races. Unlike most of those timed events, the goal here was to do a loop an hour. If you finished before an hour, you got to continue but had to wait until the start of the next hour. Think of it as run, rest, repeat. The loop consisted of two out and back segments. One at 1.4 miles and the other at 3.8 miles. (Passing the aid station each time) Much of this was on rolling farm style parkland without much shade. For us 50 Milers, it was 9 complete cycles plus a final 3.8 for 50.4 in total. Sounds easy right? Not on this day….but more on that in a bit.

Going into FPC, I figure I could run 7 minute miles for the whole duration. My fitness was strong. My goal for the first five loops was 35 minutes and then slightly slower for the back half. So at 6:50 our lot starts off and I’m running well. It is still cooler and no serious sun. I notice on the 3.8 loop it is much more rolling than the profile seemed to suggest. Yet, I finish my first loop in around 34:30. Loop 2 is the same. Loop 3 a tad slower into the 35s. Now the sun starts to make its presence known. With a forecast of high 80’s it was going to be a hot one. I was hoping we’d get a break. Nope. Loop 4 started a really rough patch of slower and slower loops. I was baking but managed to develop a loop lead. Yet the suffering continued. Jump ahead a few loops and loop 7 was an hour! I was done. I finished it and basically had enough. Without crew, I was on my own and had to make the call. Unlike Jack Bristol where I could change events, it was DNF territory here. I sat down took my shoes off and called the Misses telling her of the situation. After the call, I looked at the thermometer at the start and saw 90. That’s it. Done. I asked who I needed to tell about quitting and from my seat, I said, ‘I’m done’. Seeing I was fried, volunteers/spectators began to offer me ice and checking if I needed anything. My request: cold coke. Response: all out. But I was sitting with a pint glass of ice really needing coke. To the half consumed cans! The aid station people found and poured cans in to fill a glass. I didn’t care if someone else started it, I was desperate. I downed it. I needed more. My core was hot and I was thirsty for more than my electrolyte mix which I was blasting through due to the heat. An offer of ice pops came. I took it. Mainly melted but cold, I got an idea. I had scissors in my bag so I took a row of pops and cut them open creating a mix of flavor in the glass. I chugged this slurry of sweet. I was starting to regain a bit of myself. Then I was told, I got a piece of swag. Most of them were Nathan hydration related. I selected the four bottle waist pack. Then I went back to my bag. For some reason, I started to put on socks and a different pair of shoes. Then I walked to my car not far away and grabbed my AK Vest. I took out the large bottles and swapped in the smaller Nathan bottles. I thought, I might be able to do this.

Yes, I was going back out there! I made it known I was going to give it a try. Worst case was I had gone a little farther but had the same DNF result I was currently looking at. So after about 45 minutes of sitting around, a period in which my watch was still running, I started loop 8 with a small lead. But I had a lead still. It was a decent lap. Still it was hot and I was slow. Time meant little because that goal went out the window hours ago. 7 hours went out the door too. I wanted to finish. So I began to will myself through the course. Loop 8 was done. 9 was started. I had no idea of what lead I had. People were dropping but I was going and going. I finished 9 and all I had to do now was 3.8 miles. Here I was told, I could walk it and win. I didn’t walk it all but did some. It was not pretty but not much of the day was. I would discover later, I was sunburnt on my back. And when I got home, told I looked like a ghost due to a lack of color.

In the end, I managed my worst 50 Mile time of 7:56:19 but am proud of it for the fact I didn’t quit. AND afterwards, I learned only 5 people finished.

After about 30 minutes post-finish, I made the 2 ½ drive home back to Philadelphia. Solo. It was not a disaster either. Made good time and was comfortable.

On the day following, I took it off. With an overnight planned down in Cape May, it was a reason to relax. I did do some walking in the Pine Barrens with the lady but that was it…walking. Running resumed the next day….

By then I was thinking why can’t I do Dirty German’s 50K race. I gave it until Wednesday to decide. That is when online registration closed so if I wanted to get all the benefits, I had to be in before it was Thursday. I mean, it was an ultra in my city. If people wanted to watch me, they could. Those were strong reasons to do it. And I told myself, if I can do an easy 3:45 I’d be fine. But then, I thought a bit about the course record. My friend Mike Dixon owns it. We have not raced each other in ultras (despite people saying they’d like to see it) so this would be a good faux head to head. I figure, I’d go for his record but not kill myself trying. Cayuga was and is more important.

Yes, I signed up.

On race day, I arrived around 45 minutes before the start. Most of that time was spent getting my number, setting up my stuff near the start/midpoint/finish area and the potty line. Saw Maggie before she started her 50 miler. (The races were staggered half hour apart. 50M – 7:30, 50K – 8:00, 25K – 8:30.) Unlike FPC, Dirty German had cool weather forecast, PLUS, 95 percent of the course is shaded. Come 8:00, I was off. And off I went. I settled into a brisk pace but one I felt extremely comfortable in. I was hoping to go 1:43 for the first 15.5 miles. I had no idea of my pace during the loop as I was just using my regular watch. All I knew was that the aid stations were 3 to 4 miles apart.

One of the great things about a long loop trail course like DG is that it flies by. You can get ‘lost in the moment’ which I did, so much so, 1:41 first lap! That is with switching out handhelds. My thoughts turned to: I have this record in sight but hopefully I didn’t go out too hard. I kept my foot on the pace being comfortable but not letting up. This would hold true for much of the loop. Yet, I felt I had to be slower. When I passed the last aid station, I asked how far and was told 1.5 to the finish. I looks at my watch and knew I could do it. (This aid station for the record was not one I expected. It was mainly just water.) I kept going. I picked things up a bit more. Passing people in this stretch was hard. It was twisty and single track. I began to hear music so I knew I was close. At one point, I announced ‘coming in hot!’ As I rounded the last turn for home, I saw Peg and our friend Amy there! It was a great surprise. Best of the day. As I crossed the line, I had the record. 3:23:47. My second lap was less than two minutes slower. Had I pushed more maybe I could have had them equal. And had I pushed harder on both, maybe a state age group record.

However, I got what I set out to do and felt really good about it. I even got the OK to put up the cuckoo clock. (Once again, for the second week in a row, no coke at the finish.)

These few days later and I still feel good. Recovery is going well. Getting in the last set of long miles I can before responsible tapering.

You might be able to say about this two race recap, I learned a lesson and hopefully upped my game at the right time.

Up next: Cayuga Trails 50M.

Friday, May 2, 2014

When a win is a loss....

A few moments to reflect:

This past weekend I was signed up for my 100K debut at the Jack Bristol Lake Waramaug Ultra. It has the history of the oldest 100K in the US and is entirely road. As you may have known, I had a lofty goal with this race: To post a sub 7:20. I believed I could do it. And I still believe it. However, Sunday (Apr 27) was not the day I envisioned. About two weeks back, the heat at Trap Rock got in my head a bit making me worried about being without any crew at the 100K. My partner in life is currently in the home stretch of her master’s program so I knew I was solo on that front. Recruitment did not fare any better. When in doubt, GPS watch to the rescue. My plan going in for the time was to run comfortable and keep a solid eye on my pacing, the GPS would be my crew.

Weather was forecast to be cool with some wind. Considering it would be 7.6 mile loops around a lake, it was sure to have an impact.

Race day, I was totally prepared. Multiple shoes in case I needed to switch out. Handheld bottles filled and ready to grab. Fuel at the ready. I was set. GPS signal, check!

Just prior to 7:30 we received instructions and exactly on time, we were off. I immediately was out front running really comfortably. It is here I should point out 50K and 50M races started at the same time. This will come in handy….

For the first two passes through the start/finish, spectators noted I was looking smooth. I felt smooth form wise but my legs felt heavy. I don’t know if it was too cool or just the road impacting already. But I was hitting my splits so that was good. However, I had to pee. Not good. Not that, ‘ignore it go away feeling’ either. Luckily, the course had plenty of port-o-johns. Quick in and out kept me on pace. Wind was starting to kick up as on the back half of the loop, it was a strong headwind. Mentally I was beginning to fade. I was not enjoying these loops for some reason. Maybe I was feeling too isolated. Towards the end of the loop, I passed some people, notable in the sense I saw people. Onto the third full lap of the lake and about a mile in, the pee feeling came back. What the?!!!! I was losing it now….going maybe I’ll just drop to the 50M. Anyways, I hit the pit stop and out in quick fashion. And then…..the worst thing for me on this day happened……GPS signal loss. I was no longer able to keep my pace. In my head I cracked. I still thought of gutting it out for the 100K until the final half of the loop after running into the headwind. It was piling on me now that it was not my day. Turns out this loop was my slowest pace wise. Coming through the finish area, I said I was switching to the 50K. I just wanted everything to be over. I had a long drive ahead…blah blah blah. I managed a respectable time of 3:30:40 considering I was not running a go for the gold 50K pace. Since the event allowed switching, I won the 50K but did not achieve my main goals. Initially, I felt good about calling it. I was not having any fun out there. And this has nothing to do with the organization or volunteers who were great. I really lacked that person who could pick me up slap me around and get me back out there. For once, I needed that because my GPS crew never came back. I think if it had by the end of the lap I would have continued on but it didn’t. Considering it is pretty solid, this was fate speaking? At least that is how my mind was picturing it in its down state.

Obviously, this view led to a positive feeling of just being over with it. However, enter the 4 hour drive home. Oh yes, whatever you might have been feeling can change when there is that time to self-reflect on the road. I was struck and struck hard with my mind. My first thought was I could have PR’d in the 50M. 19 miles in 2:30. Doable. However, that would have been 3 more loops of the lake. But it is with the 50M realization that I went south. By the time I got home, I was not feeling good about my decision at all. Thankfully, my partner was so supportive. Despite her needing to work on her final project in her master’s program she took the time to listen. If it was not for her, I’d still be feeling miserable. She kept me steady until I could see the final results. Despite seeing I could have won the 100K easy, seeing that only 9 people finished the distance out of the 24 starters, it told me I was not alone in changing. Also, seeing how much my pace dropped on my third lap also made me feel better about my decision. Now, I could speculate that it was slow because I mentally shut down and had enough but it was slower and that means something.

One thing this race did show me was I do not like the roads nearly as much as I used to. However, that does not mean I won’t take a crack at the WC time for 100K here again in the future. I might. I’d like to redeem myself in that regard. I’d do it next year but first I have to see if Hyner is again the same weekend because that is a MUST for me in 2015. Until then, I have plenty of long races to fill the void and achieve goals. Likely I will do a 100K trail race in late June so I will get one under my belt. And chances are I will add another 50K or 50M a few weeks out from Cayuga. But for this weekend, I get to go fast at the Broad Street Ten Miler. Hopefully breaking my PR. I know I have the stamina, lets see where the speed is.